By Alan Murray and David Meyer
April 9, 2019

Good morning.

Shares in Alcon—Novartis’ eye care business—will start trading on the New York Stock Exchange today. Alcon was bought from Nestle in 2011 for $52 billion, but has become a trouble spot for Novartis. It’s expected to be worth about $25 billion today.

The sale marks the biggest move in an amazingly rapid transformation of the Swiss drug company under Vas Narasimhan, who has been in the top job for only 14 months. With the Alcon spin-off, he’s now done a total of $50 billion in transactions, aiming to transition the company from a Johnson & Johnson-style health care conglomerate to what Narasimhan calls a company focused on “transformational innovation” in medicine.

Narasimhan has been in Fortune’s sights since 2015, when as head of development at Novartis he made our 40 Under 40 list. A former McKinsey consultant, he entered the pharmaceutical world with a focus on public health. His purpose-driven approach is consistent with Novartis’ history—the company was No. 4 on Fortune’s 2017 Change the World list for its efforts to reduce prices for poor customers. He wants to push that mission-driven culture even further.

“My background started in malaria and HIV AIDS,” he told me Friday. “I come at everything in my life with a sense of purpose. I want to transform the lives of millions of people.” Rather than aggressive price increases, Novartis has pushed for value-based pricing, and said that every new product at time of launch has to have a plan to get to emerging markets as fast as possible. The company is also one of the leading makers of generic drugs.

But perhaps the most distinctive change being championed by Narasimhan is his leadership style—moving to what he calls an “unbossed” culture, more common to Silicon Valley than Switzerland. He sits in open seating, has abandoned ties and suits, encourages open conversation on the company’s internal social media, and has adopted a system for employees to provide “upward feedback” to managers. He’s also moved away from the company’s “perfectionist culture,” embracing risk and even failure.

You can see Narasimhan’s interview on corporate culture with Fortune’s Susie Gharib here. More news below.

Alan Murray


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